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Jean-Paul Delamotte, champion of Australian culture in France dies at 87

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Jean-Paul Delamotte (October 21, 1931 – September 21, 2019) died one month before his 88th birthday in his home in Boulogne surrounded by his life-long passions: literature and his wife Monique, whom he had met when she was an 18-year-old and he, a handsome 33, at the Boulogne Film Studios.

Their house in Boulogne in Paris hosted thousands of Australian authors, publishers, film makers, artists, musicians, politicians and diplomats, whom the Delamottes introduced to French counterparts in an attempt to make Australian culture known to French intellectual and political spheres from the 1980s to the 2000s.

The Delamottes had moved to Australia in the 1970s, boarding a boat in Genoa on a six-week journey, to arrive in Perth and cross Australia on the Indian-Pacific, to Newcastle where they taught French literature and Cinema (JP) and French (M).

The couple had applied for work at three Australian universities with introduction letters from the French writer Ionesco but Professor Ken Dutton in Newcastle replied first.

They discovered a mining town with a convict past, one of Australia’s oldest cities with landmark buildings, charming windy streets, majestic fig-trees, stunning beaches, and a beautiful university (a good hospital too, where Monique gave birth with a view over the ocean).

Monique and Jean-Paul Delamotte at home in Paris.

The emerging art scene of the 1970s was at full speed. They were greeted by the local newspaper staff and treated as friends, and felt immediately at home. Their strongest friendships were born there and then, with such exceptional people as writer Frank Moorhouse, and architect, art defender and community saver Brian Suters.

When a few years later family difficulties back in France brought the couple back to Paris, the Delamottes promoted Australian literature and culture to French literati – who thought that French literature should be world renowned, but made no effort to reciprocate and acknowledge the value of other literatures.

Jean-Paul Delamotte became a pioneer in the move to open literature to otherness. He became a staunch promoter of cultural reciprocity. He lobbied diplomats and personalities including former president Jacques Chirac, a friend from his university days at Paris’s Sciences Po. He was a great admirer of committed Francophile Gough Whitlam and announced Margaret Whitlam the patron of the Association Culturelle Franco-Australienne which he and Monique launched in the early 1980s. 

Jean-Paul had briefly studied at Sciences Po before his studies were interrupted by military service in Algeria. Upon his return he had thought to apply for the degree anyway, and when the head of the school refused, 20 year-old Jean-Paul proceeded to say “je me considère comme diplômé de votre école, Monsieur!” and left. He later earned a PhD from the Sorbonne, but his fondest school memories were of Amherst College and Harvard in the US.

He had discovered literature in his grandparents’ library in an old house of Boulevard d’Auteuil, in Boulogne-Billancourt, in the leafy west of Paris. He had spent his wartime childhood with limited schooling but quality education and love, in the privileged surrounds of a country house garden where the family pig was called Adolf and the little donkey Kiki.

The Delamottes’ house in Boulogne in Paris hosted thousands of Australian authors, publishers, film makers, artists, musicians, politicians and diplomats, whom they introduced to French counterparts in an attempt to promote Australian culture in France.

He was 14 when his father had returned from the war. Walking towards his father on a country road, he was uncertain that he would recognise him. His childhood taught him a staunch love for freedom which his parents did not understand.

He began a diary at the age of 14 and literature always was a part of his life. He published books with publishers Plon and Gallimard thanks to the patronage of Jean Paulhan, and he knew Beckett, Roy and Ionesco. But when this old generation gave way he found less support in publishing and worked in the French film industry as a managing producer. When publishers in the 1990s and 2000s asked him to handle the Australian collections they were setting up, he declined, out of fear of being constrained.

Convinced that he would not attain fame but would leave his novels for later generations to discover, he rediscovered and published forgotten authors, and grateful for the encouragements he’d received as a young author, he helped others.

Paul Wenz, a writer from Reims better known in Australia as Paul Warrego, was also a station owner and cattle breeder near Forbes, NSW. Thanks to Jean-Paul, Wenz now has a street by his name in his hometown and his books have been revived and translated. 

La Petite Maison, the Delamotte small press, also published young Australian authors (including Chris Andrews, Maurelia Meehan, Bill Laganza) to help them thrive, and famous Australian ones (among them Katherine Susannah Prichard, Robert Brissenden, John Rowland and JP’s contemporaries Frank Moorhouse, David Malouf) to promote their names in France.

Jean-Paul translated Marcus Clarke and Moorhouse into French and had them published by well-known French publishers. He was central in organising a literary event, the Australian edition of the Belles étrangères literary festival in Paris in 1990 and many others (including the noteworthy publication of two special issues of the Nouvelle Revue Françaiseby Gallimard). He subtitled many Australian films including those of Peter Weir.

The Delamottes lobbied for the medal of the City of Paris to be given to painter Lloyd Rees, and for the distinction of Commandeur des Arts et des Lettresto be awarded to singer Joan Sutherland and her husband, conductor Richard Bonynge. Future consuls and ambassadors or French literary celebrities such as Bernard Pivot, would come through the Boulogne house which acted as an Australian cultural centre. Jean-Paul was made Honorary Fellow of Macquarie University, Kelver Hartley Fellow by Newcastle University and a member of the Order of Australia (AM) by the Australian government. Most of all, he was loved by wonderful Australians and loved them back.

He wrote his whole life – novels, short stories, essays, poetry. His diary is thousands of pages long. Thanks to Monique’s devotion, he remained to the end in his peaceful home in Boulogne, and stopped living when he could no longer write, talk or type.

Guibourg Delamotte is the daughter of Jean-Paul and Monique Delamotte and is a Japanese Politics and International Relations specialist.

One response to “Jean-Paul Delamotte, champion of Australian culture in France dies at 87

  1. As someone who loves the French respect for culture and heritage, as well as bike riding, it was lovely to learn about Jean-Paul Delamotte, and his and Monique’s support for Australian culture. A lovely tribute and I do hope that the University of Newcastle and/or the Council will establish something in his and Monique’s name befitting his support.

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